Columbia High School to Present 22nd Annual Shakespeare Festival April 26

0 FacebookTwitterPinterestEmail


MAPLEWOOD, N.J. – Sword fights, dirty jokes, feuding families, and raging oligarchs are in the forecast for the Columbia High School (CHS) auditorium on Friday, April 26th when the day-long 22nd Annual Shakespeare Festival will be presented.

“The festival takes the stodginess away from Shakespeare,” said Stephen MacPherson, a.k.a. “Mr. Mac,” a 25-year veteran English teacher and faculty advisor of The Shakespeare Festival.

“We get down to the jokes, finding the humor, and avoiding the highfalutin academia,” he said.

Hundreds of students will perform scenes from a variety of the Bard’s plays, including Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV Part One, Titus Andronicus, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing. Students in all CHS English classes will be in the audience.

“I’m wielding a sword,” said freshman Anton MacLachlan, who will perform in the duel scene from Twelfth Night. “This isn’t why I joined the club. But when I found these, I found my purpose.”

“Kids love swords,” MacPherson said. He has a box full of them in the closet in the classroom where he teaches six classes.

CHS students rehearse a scene from Titus Andronicus.

Most importantly, the festival has its academic payoffs, he said.

“What this festival is really about is teaching through performance,” MacPherson said. “Students who prepare for this really have to know what’s going on – all of the nuances in the language.”

The festival is planned by members of the CHS Shakespeare Club, which is led by a tripartite of seniors, Ben Gevirtz, Tali Ben-Ari, and Sam Dorbin.

Ben-Ari said she was an unlikely person to help plan the Shakespeare Festival when she first started high school.

“I used to hate Shakespeare,” she said. “I thought it was so boring. I didn’t really understand the language.”

In her sophomore year, she joined The Shakespeare Club, attracted to the idea of occasionally being the center of attention at the festival.

But it was taking “Mr. Mac’s” class in her junior year when she learned to explore how Shakespeare’s writing applied to issues like gender theory and race relations.

“That really tied me into really enjoying Shakespeare,” she said.

Gevirtz said audience members could have a similar conversion to appreciating Shakespeare at the festival.

“The festival is celebrating something that people are continuously discovering,” he said. “It’s more versatile than they expect. You don’t have to idolize something to have a good time with it.”

This year’s theme, a quote from Henry IV: Part One; “Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere,” was chosen by CHS students who voted from a list of nominations. It comes from a “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us” scene between two rivals, Ben-Ari said.

There were other reasons the quote appealed to students.

“I care a lot about iambic pentameter,” said Gevirtz, referring to the poetic device of having 10 syllables in a line. Members of the CHS Astronomy Club favored the reference to stars, he added.

The logo, designed by sophomore Lillian Kyle, was also chosen democratically, winning most of the 300 votes cast by students

“[The quote] made me think, in a Shakespeare sense, of star-crossed lovers and fate,” said Kyle, who also played off the word “stars.”

“That’s why I did a constellation,” she said.

Kyle’s design is featured on all of the festival’s merchandise, including t-shirts and mugs, which can be purchased at Custom Ink. Proceeds go to The Shakespeare Club.

Some of the student actors will be performing for the first time at the festival. In addition to the sword-wielding MacLachlan, sophomore Violet Holtz will be appearing. Holtz said she has always liked Shakespeare, having been involved in productions of the Bard’s works since she was in third grade.

For freshman Maya Bensimon, the festival will be her first experience as an actor.

“I am very nervous because it’s my first time performing,” Bensimon said. “But for Shakespeare, I’ll do it, I guess.”

MacPherson said he inherited The Shakespeare Festival from its originator, Dr. Robert Young. Young has a doctorate in English Education and had been the head of the English Department before he retired in 2005.

“I think it’s important that the festival continues – in no small part because of Steve MacPherson’s dedication to it – to provide students with an opportunity to explore their interest in Shakespeare’s work,” said Young. “Also, to demonstrate first-hand that Shakespeare is accessible to everyone. Over the years, students have provided some of the most creative, insightful, and entertaining takes on Shakespeare’s plays and poems. They have made connections between and among other works of literature and current events, among others. The festival helps to make that happen.

The Shakespeare Festival is partially funded by the District. It also receives funding through student fundraising, teacher contributions, South Orange-Maplewood Education Association (SOMEA) contributions, merchandise sales, and private donations.

The 22nd Annual Shakespeare Festival will be held this Friday, April 26th, from 7:55 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. in the Columbia High School auditorium, 17 Parker Ave., Maplewood, N.J. Each period will kick off with a performance from the Infinite Step Team, followed by scenes from the plays mixed with interactive games led by our emcees. 

Performances will be held in front of the stage rather than on the stage. The festival is open to the public. Admission is free.


Related Articles